Sexy social media posts can backfire for young women

facebook profile photo young women sexy picture
Young women with sexy profile pics are seen as less competent.
Credit: Getty Images

Save your sexy pouts and cocktail dresses for dating sites, ladies.

With a candidate’s social media presence increasingly a factor in their employment, a study out of Oregon State University has found that girls and young women who share sexy or revealing photos of themselves on social media sites are seen by their female peers as less competent – and, in a seemingly contrary finding, less physically and socially appealing.

“There is so much pressure on teen girls and young women to portray themselves as sexy, but sharing those sexy photos online may have more negative consequences than positive,” Elizabeth Daniels, an assistant professor in psychology, said in a release.

Daniels, who co-authored the study, said women face a “no-win” situation when choosing how to represent themselves online. Sexier photos risk alienating other women, but more conservative images could cost them the attention of potential male partners.

Her findings were based on two identical Facebook profiles for a fictional young woman, Amanda Johnson. The only difference between them was the profile picture: one of her in a low-cut red dress, another in a casual outfit of jeans and a short-sleeved shirt. The profiles were evaluated by 58 teen girls and 60 young women aged 17-25 on whether Amanda was attractive, if they could see themselves being friends with her and competence. 

In all three categories, the modest profile was rated higher, with the largest gap in whether Amanda was perceived as competent – suggesting that sexiness is detrimental to her perceived professionalism.

Daniels encouraged young women to choose social media photos that show off their identity, such as trips she’s taken or participating in a sport or hobby, rather than ones that are primarily just sexy.

“Don’t focus so heavily on appearance,” Daniels said. “Focus on who you are as a person and what you do in the world.”


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